Why Bernie Sanders Wanted to Stay on the New York Ballot

bernie sanders new york ballot

Getty Bernie Sanders during a debate.

Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign in early April, but he asked to stay on the New York presidential primary ballot. Instead, New York has now canceled its presidential primary as COVID-19 still rages.

“Senator Sanders has publicly stated that he wishes to remain a candidate and has formally objected to his removal” from the New York ballot, a letter his campaign sent to New York elections officials says.

Why did Sanders want to stay on the New York ballot? Sanders wants to accrue enough delegates so his supporters have a say on powerful committees that determine things like rules on superdelegates at the Democratic National Convention. Thus, the decision by New York elections officials to cancel the primary altogether has some Sanders’ supporters crying foul.

You can read the Sanders’ campaign letter in full here. The letter says that Bernie’s “involuntary erasure from the ballot” as the result of a law that came after his campaign suspension would “sow needless strife and distrust, impeding Senator Sanders’ efforts to unify the Democratic Party in advance of November elections.”

The letter, written by Sanders’s campaign lawyers, starts out: “We understand that the Campaign will not have an opportunity to present at tomorrow’s meeting of Commissioners to determine whether Senator Sanders will remain on the ballot for the June 23, 2020 Presidential Primary.”

As a result, the campaign submitted the letter to make Sanders’ intentions known. The campaign lawyers wrote that the letter was meant to “document the Senator’s position on the official record: Senator Sanders wishes to remain on the ballot, and is concerned that his removal from the ballot would undermine efforts to unify the Democratic Party in advance of the general election.” Sanders wanted the primary to go forward, according to The New York Times.

Instead, on April 27, state elections officials cancelled the New York primary after removing all names from the ballot other than Joe Biden’s. They cited a desire to avoid overcrowding at the polls due to COVID-19 since other local races will still go forward. Democratic state election commissioners made the call.

Sanders suspended his campaign on April 8, 2020, however the letter now calls that a “limited suspension of his presidential campaign.” The campaign notes “Senator Sanders has not officially terminated his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission.” The presumptive nominee, Vice President Joe Biden, has faced growing questions about the sexual assault accusations raised by a former staffer, Tara Reade. He denies the allegations. However, Sanders’ letter makes clear that he wants to stay on the ballot so his supporters can retain influence at the Democratic National Convention.

“What the Sanders campaign wanted is essentially a beauty contest that, given the situation with the public health emergency, seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, frivolous,” Elections Board Co-Chair Douglas Kellner said after the decision to cancel the primary, according to The New York Times, which added that already one pro-Sanders group is saying it may challenge New York’s delegation on the convention floor.

To the Democrat and Chronicle, Kellner added, “Senator Sanders has not only announced that he’s suspending his campaign but he’s also announced a public endorsement of Joe Biden. That has effectively ended the real context for the primary election.”

“We should minimize the number of people on the ballot, minimize the election for the protection of everybody … and not have everyone on the ballot just for purposes of issues at a convention,” Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Andy Spano said during the April 27 meeting.

Those are the two officials responsible for the primary cancellation decision. Cost savings to counties were also given as a reason for cancelling the primary.

Previously, the Republican primary was cancelled because President Donald Trump was the only candidate on the ballot.

Some people erupted in anger on social media after the Democratic primary decision.

Others wrote that they were upset that Sanders suspended his campaign in the first place. “Bernie, please unsuspend.” wrote one Twitter user. “You have a responsibility to all the millions who donated, volunteered, voted, and supported you…#BernieUnsuspend.”

Here’s what you need to know:

Bernie’s Campaign Says He Wants to Influence the Party’s Platform by Bringing Delegates Into the Democratic National Convention

bernie sanders

GettySenator Bernie Sanders.

Here’s what’s at stake: Sanders wants to accrue enough delegates so his supporters can receive at least 25% of the seats on “three key convention committees…those concerning rules and bylaws, the party platform, and convention credentials,” The Huffington Post reported. If his supporters reach that threshold, they can submit a minority report to the convention floor “for a vote” on things like changes to the power of superdelegates, whom his supporters believe tilted the last primary toward Hillary Clinton in an unfair process.

The letter emphasizes the degree of work that went into getting Sanders on the ballot in the first place:

Senator Sanders has duly qualified for placement on the Primary ballot as a candidate for the Democratic nomination to the office of President of the United States. To get him on the ballot, the Campaign mobilized a vast network of volunteer circulators across New York’s 27 congressional districts, gathering nearly 60,000 signatures for Senator Sanders and his 184 authorized pledged delegates. Before and after the petitioning process, the Campaign workedtirelessly in New York to conduct voter outreach and organizing initiative.

The campaign admits that wanting to stay on the ballot was about seeking influence at the Democratic National Convention, writing that Sanders emphasized “that he intended to remain on the ballot in upcoming primaries, gather delegates, and attend the Democratic National Convention, with an eye to influencing the party’s platform.”

The letter notes that Sanders endorsed Biden but that a Biden official told the press that it was good if Sanders kept accruing delegates “to reflect the work that they have done to contribute to the movement that will beat Donald Trump this fall.”

However, on April 13, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new bill allowing the elections board to eliminate candidates from the ballot who suspended their campaigns. The Sanders’ letter argues that the present-tense language (“if the candidate publicly announces”) in the law means it can’t be applied retroactively. If the language is applied retroactively to Sanders, it would “severely impact Senator Sanders’ core substantive rights,” the letter says.

“Invoking this provision against him would subject him to the prospect of involuntary ballot removal, notwithstanding his publicly stated desire to remain a candidate, and his satisfaction of all legal prerequisites for ballot access,” says the letter, discussing “the severity of this potential deprivation.”

The Huffington Post previously reported that the two Democratic members of the state Elections Board, Kellner and Spano, were going to meet to decide whether to remove Sanders, a decision requiring their unanimity. Kellner told the Post that he thought he had no legal choice but to remove Sanders from the ballot. At that time, Spano “expressed ambivalence,” indicating that Sanders’ supporters want a “voice at the convention,” according to Huffington Post.

Other Democratic presidential candidates who dropped out haven’t expressed an interest in staying on the ballot. Sanders’ letter notes that Biden and the DNC don’t oppose his desire to stay on the ballot. That’s believed to be in part because an angry Sanders’ base wouldn’t help Biden come November.

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